Indigenous knowledge on the South African landscape: potentials for agricultural development

Indigenous knowledge on the South African landscape: potentials for agricultural development

Agricultural policy should no longer reflect top-down, generalised debates and models

Development needs to start with what people know and build on their knowledge and experiences. With this perspective, the authors of this paper provide some examples of how important indigenous or local knowledge is to its users, different ways in which they use this knowledge, and the potential that indigenous knowledge has in some areas of agricultural development.

The paper looks primarily at recent examples of agricultural practices in which resource-poor agrarian householders have used their indigenous knowledge, as well as innovations to overcome many of the socioeconomic, political and environmental constraints they experience. This is done by highlighting South African case studies demonstrating the importance of indigenous knowledge for agricultural development.

Finding that local innovation is inseparably associated with indigenous knowledge, challenges for agricultural research and policy include:

  • the micro-level relevancy of indigenous knowledge means that policy development can no longer be based on generalised debates and models. Good policies which recognise farmer and agro-ecological diversity and support local indigenous knowledge will go a long way to bridging gaps in conventional scientific research
  • the notion of ‘universal truths’ needs to change. Science may have a lot to offer if it starts focusing at the local or micro level
  • South African agricultural research should pay more attention to indigenous vegetable varieties in order to boost food security
  • there is a need to move away beyond the research practices that predominantly focus on medicinal plants and those that support an export-driven economy
  • not all indigenous knowledge and innovation practices are necessarily good- knowledge may have eroded, or circumstances may have changed meaning that these practices now have a negative impact rather than a beneficial one
  • the implementation of the South African Indigenous Knowledge Systems Policy must take note of the dynamics of indigenous knowledge, its ability to contribute positively to development, and the ability of users to continually improve and innovate upon this knowledge.
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